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Costa Rica: The Road to Santa Elena | The Time to Go Is Now

Costa Rica: The Road to Santa Elena

Costa Rica: The Road to Santa Elena

A big reason people come to Costa Rica is its wild life and I am not talking about the crazy, drunk college kids in the popular surf towns. Mark and I gave most of that up a while ago. We wanted to get up close and personal with nature, so we headed to Santa Elena. Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve are both located in the area.

The roads in this area can be rough. It takes a long time to get to places even if they seem very close. We opted to take the popular jeep, boat, jeep route of transportation because it is about 3 hours instead of 8. The funny part is there aren’t actually any jeeps involved. We left our hostel around 8:30am and took a shuttle bus with lots of other eager tourists waiting to get to the cloud forest.

Image of Lake Arenal
Taking the boat across Lake Arenal

It started raining right when we left. We were one of the first people off the shuttle which meant we were one of the first people on the boat. The good news is we had the first pick of seats on the boat. The bad news is they used our back packs as the base to load all other luggage and piled it onto a floor of muddy water. I cringed as I watched each person get on the boat stepping on the sides of my pack. I knew it had to get dirty sooner or later, but I just wasn’t ready for it yet. The sun came out and we rolled the plastic windows up on the tiny boat. We saw beautiful views of Lake Arenal.

Image of Julie on the boat.

The ride across the lake was slow, but enjoyable. The tour boats went three boats at a time. Otherwise, there was nothing else motorized on this lake. I decided to just let the backpack thing go and enjoy the scenery. We were near the front when we got off the boat. I was able to pull my backpack out from everyone else’s luggage Jenga style. I quietly laughed because mine was no longer the only one in the muddy water. My pack really wasn’t too bad. I threw it over my shoulder and hiked up the hill to the next bus.

After a bumpy hour and a half bus ride, we arrived at our hostel La Pensión Santa Elena. This hostel was much different than our last. There was no pool or bar. It did have a small community area inside and a deck outside. This is where we spent most of our time because the Wi-Fi didn’t reach to our room. The temperatures in the evening would become cool with the mountain breeze, so we didn’t really want to sit outside.

Julie working at hostel.
The $5 litre box of Chilean wine has become a staple.

The best part was the restaurant attached called Taco Taco. We both had tacos al pastor our first day. We enjoyed the tacos, but I wished there was a little more pork and a little less filling. Most pastor tacos are just pork, onions, cilantro and maybe a touch of pineapple. These had some cabbage and cheese on them. Not that I have any problem with cabbage or cheese, but I wanted more pork. They used flour tortillas instead of the traditional corn, but neither one of us were complaining as we inhaled our three tacos. All tacos were served with tortilla chips and the home made salsa which was awesome. It had just the right amount of pepper spice and tomato flavor. We visited this stand a few times on our 3 nights in Santa Elena.

Tacos al Pastor
Enjoying the tacos in Santa Elena

If you stay at the hostel they give you a token for a free breakfast taco. It was filled with eggs, beans or potatoes, and cheese. It came with a side of fruit and it was delicious, especially if you topped it with that salsa. The only downside to breakfast is that you could only get it between 7-9am. If you were doing an early morning tour or taking the first bus out of town you would miss the free breakfast. We spent three nights there and we were only able to enjoy the breakfast tacos once.

Image of Taco Taco Santa Elena
Taco stand on the left, hostel on the right. Even if the taco prices seemed a little high you can’t really beat the convenience.

The staff at the hostel was very helpful. They suggested we do a tour of Monteverde‘s park first with a guide. Afterwards, we would be able to hike on our own and know what we were looking for if we didn’t want to do more tours. The Santa Elena area had a tour for everything and the hostel would arrange everything for you. A binder was kept in the reception area. You pick what interested you and they arranged it. These tours can be pricey and it is similar everywhere you go in Costa Rica. We try to limit tours to things we think are necessary to have a full experience in specific areas. Luckily most of the tours offered (whitewater rafting, zip lining) Mark and I have done in other places. This makes it much easier to just pass on them.

This post turned out to be pretty long so I’ll cover the details about our trips to the cloud forests in the next post.

11 Responses to Costa Rica: The Road to Santa Elena

  1. Julie, you’ve already come a long way. In 3 weeks your only complaint has been not enough pork on your taco. I’m proud of you. 🙂

    Thanks for including links to stuff about the places you’ve been. It is nice to be able to read more about them.

    You seen any monkey’s?

  2. I remember visiting a butterfly preserve (http://www.monteverdebutterflygarden.com) when we were there back in ’99. I HATE butterflies with a white-hot passion, but even I had to admit it was pretty neat and the staff was knowledgeable about the flora and fauna.

    (don’t worry–all my tips will vanish once you leave Costa Rica–I have NO experience in South America and can’t wait to see your posts!)

    • I can’t say I miss the snow. We both decided we picked the best year to do this trip. We have had a lot of sunshine with a little rain. We even have a nice fan on the balcony which I know you would enjoy. I think if we taught you and Ronda a few Spanish phrases you might actually enjoy a visit to Manuel Antonio sometime.
      Julie recently posted…Costa Rica: The Road to Santa ElenaMy Profile

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We're Mark & Julie

We quit our jobs at the end of 2013 to backpack around the world. We're sharing our stories, travel advice and hopefully some inspiration. Read more...

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